Many actors approaching middle age decide to slow the pace of their maturation, to surgically preserve some youthful vigor. Tom Cruise, however, has gone full Benjamin Button and is actively shaving the years off his face — soon he will look younger than he did in “Risky Business.” His plasticized visage stars as Nick Morton in “The Mummy,” a film making a very game effort to be crowned the worst of 2017.
Director Alex Kurtzman learned at the knee of Michael Bay, having written screenplays for a couple “Transformers” films (someone had to do it) and attempts to match Bay’s bombast. This piece of modern day Egyptian crypt-diving is referred to as “A new world of gods and monsters,” and is the theoretical commencement of a “Dark Universe” franchise. But, given the unconscionable decision not to include even a cameo from Brendan Fraser, star of the 1999 version of “The Mummy,” the studio heads are not respecting their ghosts.
OK, on to the plot, as much as it can be explicated… Nick and his pal Chris (Jake Johnson) are soldiers of fortune seeking buried treasure in Mesopotamia when they run afoul of some locals and need real American soldiers to bail them out. A missile strike targeting turbaned “insurgents” uncovers a tomb hidden for thousands of years.
It is the resting place of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who was mummified alive and dipped in mercury after killing her father the king and her brother his heir before attempting to couple with Set, the god of death. The site is of great interest to Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who knows how to spot read hieroglyphics. She arrives on the scene shortly after the tomb is discovered and, because she had previously been relieved of a treasure map by Nick, greets him with a slap in the face. This is a high point in the relationship — Wallis and Cruise share a brutal lack of chemistry.
While exploring the site (Nick carries the biggest flashlight) the adventurers begin to be plagued by crystal visions of Ahmanet in a desert landscape — these shots are meant to be sharp and jarring, but the aesthetic resembles a really ambitious J. Jill summer catalog spread. The evil princess is soon reborn and unleashes all manner of inconvenience: sandstorms, murders of crows, mischiefs of rats, etc. Chris is killed off quickly and subsequently appears as a… ghost(?) … that only Nick can see… as opposed to the other people Ahmanet kills… who turn into zombies.
Nick and Jenny run back to London to see subject expert Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who runs an underground “evil containment” business called Prodigium. If his name sounds familiar it should, as Mr. Hyde is right around the corner (a rotund Crowe looks remarkably like John Goodman when playing Jekyll’s florid other half).
While stalking about looking for a lost jewel that will complete her godlike powers, Ahmanet wears a chic, bondage-y one piece made of bandages. Her look must be inspired by Stella’s in the dance of the dragonfly in Powell and Pressburger’s “Tales of Hoffmann” (just kidding).
Much of the action is one character gazing goggle-eyed at what another has just said. Notwithstanding Cruise’s excellent delivery of his money line, “Am I… dead?” you really feel the chaos of a script toiled over by six writers, where the only non-embarrassing material is translations from the ancient Egyptian. It’s enough to make you cry out for the trenchant and logical historical analysis of Dan Brown in “The Da Vinci Code.”
‘The Mummy’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 1:47. Visitcinemawest.com.